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How To Inform The Distinction, Footage & Examples

Moth vs butterfly? How do you inform the distinction? Under is an entire information to the distinction between moth and butterfly, with footage and examples.


Moths and butterflies belong to the identical order of bugs, Lepidoptera, and infrequently look much like each other. (Apparently, butterflies advanced from moths.)

Each moths and butterflies share the identical four-stage life-cycle, present process full metamorphosis as they progress from egg to winged adults. So why is Lepidoptera divided into moths and butterflies?

Among the finest-known variations between moths and butterflies is that moths are nocturnal (lively at evening), whereas butterflies are diurnal (lively throughout the day).

Nevertheless, there are a variety of exceptions to this rule, and on this web page we provide you with a sensible information on the right way to inform the distinction between these fascinating bugs.

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Adult Male Monarch Butterfly
Grownup Male Monarch Butterfly. Click on on the photograph to seek out out extra about this species.

Under is an inventory of the principle variations between moths and butterflies:

Moth Vs Butterfly: How To Inform The Distinction

  • Almost all butterflies are diurnal (lively throughout the day), whereas most moths are nocturnal.
  • Moths are inclined to have drab-colored wings, whereas these of butterflies are often brightly-colored and extra conspicuous.
  • Moth antennae are feathery and infrequently tapered or leaf formed.
  • Butterfly antennae are skinny and hairless, and finish with a ball or membership.
  • When at relaxation, moths both fold theirs wings again flat over their our bodies, or have their wings open and touching the floor upon which they’re resting.
  • Butterflies often relaxation with their wings held collectively behind their our bodies, or bask with their wings held open, however not touching the floor upon which they’re resting.
  • Through the pupal stage, moths make cocoons out of silk, whereas most butterflies type a chrysalis with a tough outer pores and skin.
  • The fore and hind wings of moths are joined by a row of hair-like buildings referred to as frenulum, which most butterflies lack.

Distinction Between Moth And Butterfly In Element

Hummingbird hawk moth
Not all moths are nocturnal: the hummingbird hawk-moth pictured above is diurnal. Picture: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0] (Cropped / resized by ActiveWild.com)

As we’ve discovered, the principle behavioral distinction between moths and butterflies is that almost all moths are both nocturnal or crepuscular (lively at daybreak and nightfall), and practically all butterflies are diurnal.

There are exceptions; a number of moth species are lively throughout the daytime, and a handful of butterflies are lively at evening (we’ve offered an inventory of examples of each additional down the web page).

The figures bear this out: there are round 9 moth species for each one butterfly species, and scientists have calculated that between 75% and 85% of Lepidopteran species are nocturnal (supply).

As a result of some moths are diurnal and a few butterflies are nocturnal, understanding the bodily variations between the 2 teams of insect is important in differentiating members of the 2 teams.

Moth Vs Butterfly Wing Coloration

Moth vs Butterfly
Moths often have drab, inconspicuous wings, whereas these of butterflies are sometimes brightly-colored.

Basically, moths are inclined to have drab-colored wings, whereas butterflies usually have colourful patterns.

That is an adaptation for the bugs’ respective existence; a moth must be camouflaged throughout the day, when it’s inactive, and being brightly-colored just isn’t a requirement for a nocturnal animal. (Whereas butterflies use brilliant colours to find mates, moths are extra reliant on pheromones.)

Apparently, moths which can be lively throughout the day are inclined to have brightly-colored wings.

Butterflies have brightly-colored wings for mate attraction and / or to ship a warning sign to potential predators.

Why Are Butterflies Brightly Coloured?

  • Mate attraction: Shiny colours may also play a job in mate choice, as they might sign good well being and genetic health. Males with vibrant colours are sometimes extra engaging to females, growing their possibilities of profitable mating and passing on their genes.
  • Warning alerts: Some butterflies have brilliant colours as a type of aposematism, which serves as a warning sign to potential predators. These colours usually point out that the butterfly is poisonous or unpalatable, discouraging predators from making an attempt to eat them.

In lots of species, there’s a marked distinction within the look of men and women. An instance of this may be seen on this planet’s largest butterfly: the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae).

The male of this species is significantly extra colourful than the comparatively drab, however considerably bigger feminine, whose wingspan can attain 28 centimeters (9.8 inches to 11 inches).

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly
Male Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly. Click on on the photograph to seek out out extra about this species.


The antennae of a moth are feathery and pointed, whereas these of a butterfly are skinny and finish with a ball or membership.

Difference between moth and butterfly antennae
Distinction between moth (left) and butterfly (proper) antennae. These of the moth are feathery and tapered; these of the butterfly are skinny, straight, and finish in a membership.


Butterfly vs Moth at rest
When resting, moths draw their wings again over the physique. Most butterflies both maintain their wings collectively behind their our bodies, or bask with their wings opened (as demonstrated by the orange tip butterfly within the photograph).

The best way wherein moths and butterflies maintain their wings when at relaxation can be used to inform the distinction between butterflies and moths.

  • At relaxation, moths are inclined to flatten themselves towards the floor, both with the wings folded again towards the moth’s physique, or open and touching the floor upon which the insect is resting.
  • Butterflies have a tendency both to carry their wings both straight again, or bask with their wings held extensive open (with house between every wing and the floor upon which the butterfly is resting).

Exceptions to the above embrace skippers (butterflies of household Hesperiidae). These butterflies usually maintain their wings folded behind them like a moth.


The fore and hind wings of moths are joined by a row of hair-like buildings referred to as a frenulum, which is lacking in most butterflies.


A moth’s physique is commonly thick and bushy – the hairs probably being an adaptation to evade the echolocation of bats. By comparability, butterflies’ our bodies are usually thinner and smoother.

Cocoon Vs Chrysalis

Monarch Butterfly Pupa
Monarch butterfly chrysalis (the transparency signifies the butterfly will shortly hatch).

Throughout their pupal stage, moths make cocoons out of silk wherein they metamorphose from caterpillars into grownup moths.

Most butterflies type chrysalises, which have exhausting outer skins, as they endure the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.

A cocoon and a chrysalis are each protecting coverings that the bugs use throughout the pupal stage of their growth, however they differ of their construction.

A cocoon is a silk casing spun by moth caterpillars (and sure different bugs) throughout the pupal stage of their life cycle. The cocoon acts as a protecting barrier towards predators and harsh environmental situations. The caterpillar secretes silk threads from its spinneret glands, which it makes use of to create a woven construction round itself.

A chrysalis, however, is the hardened outer pores and skin shaped by butterfly caterpillars throughout their pupation. In contrast to cocoons, chrysalises don’t contain using silk. As a substitute, the caterpillar’s exoskeleton transforms right into a inflexible case because it prepares to endure metamorphosis. This hardened shell serves as a protecting layer for the creating butterfly inside.

As standard, there are exceptions: hawk moths, for instance, pupate in an uncovered pupa reasonably than a silken cocoon.


To totally perceive the distinction between moth and butterfly we have to delve a little bit deeper into the evolution of each teams of insect.

Surprisingly, moths first appeared many tens of millions of years earlier than butterflies, and butterflies subsequently advanced from moths.

Small Copper Butterfly
Small copper butterfly, photographed in southern England.

Moths and butterflies make up the order Lepidoptera. (An order is a bunch of associated animals. You’ll find out extra about how animals are grouped on this web page: Animal Classification.)

Lepidoptera means ‘scale wing’. The identify refers back to the many tiny scales which cowl each the wings and the our bodies of butterflies and moths.

Different insect orders embrace Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants) and Coleoptera (beetles).

Like all bugs, the our bodies of moths and butterflies are divided into three segments: head, thorax and stomach. All members of Lepidoptera undergo a four-stage life-cycle, which consists of: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and imago (the grownup moth or butterfly).

Butterflies make up their very own group, Papilionoidea, inside Lepidoptera*. Papilionoidea is a ‘superfamily’ that accommodates a number of butterfly households, together with Papilionidae (swallowtails and birdwings) and Nymphalidae (the brush-footed butterflies).

* There may be some debate over whether or not or not the moth-like Hedyloidea needs to be included inside Papilionoidea.

How Many Moths and Butterflies Are There?

Luna Moth
Luna moth – not all moths have uninteresting colours!

There are round 180,000 identified species* in Lepidoptera. Solely round 10% of those are butterflies; the remaining 90% are moths.

Many of the world’s moths and butterflies are present in tropical areas, though lepidopterans are current on each continent besides Antarctica.

* The Catalogue of Life at present (April 2023) lists 159,657 dwelling species (supply), the 1999 version of the Handbuch der Zoologie (a famend reference work) lists 174,250 species (supply).

Collectively, butterflies and moths make up round 1% of all identified organisms.

Moth and Butterfly Evolution

Blue morpho butterfly from South America

Whereas moths have been round because the dinosaurs, butterflies are relative newcomers, solely having appeared within the final 55 million years.

Moths appeared many tens of millions of years earlier than butterflies. The very first moths appeared throughout the Jurassic Interval. These early lepidopterans would have co-existed with dinosaurs.

The earliest identified moth is Archaeolepis mane. A fossilized specimen has been dated to the Early Jurassic Interval, round 190 million years in the past.

Through the Cretaceous Interval the primary flowering crops started to appear. The Lepidoptera and flowering crops coevolved, forming a relationship which was mutually useful.

The bugs helped the crops to breed by transferring pollen, whereas the crops offered the bugs with meals within the type of nectar.

Through the Cretaceous Interval proboscises started to appear in grownup lepidopterans. A proboscis is a curled, tongue-like mouthpart utilized by moths and butterflies to extract nectar from flowers. It’s a characteristic of most trendy butterflies and moths.

The primary butterflies appeared round 55 million years in the past, round 10 million years after the (non-avian) dinosaurs turned extinct.

(The earliest-known American butterfly is Prodryas Persephone, whose fossilized stays have been dated to 34 million years in the past.)

Butterflies advanced from moths. As a result of a number of completely different teams of moths had already appeared earlier than butterflies, some moths are extra carefully associated to butterflies than they’re to moths in different teams.

Moths That Are Energetic Throughout The Day

  • Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) – Present in Europe, Asia and components of Africa, hummingbird hawk moths are identified for his or her hummingbird-like hovering conduct whereas feeding on nectar from flowers.
  • Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) – Recognizable by its placing crimson and black markings, this moth is commonly present in grasslands and meadows. It’s native to Eurasia, however has been launched to Australia and North America.
  • Six-Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) – A European day-flying moth with vibrant blue-green wings and 6 crimson spots, usually present in grassy habitats.
  • White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) – Identified for his or her giant measurement and quick flight, these moths are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds. These day-flying moths are discovered from Central America by way of Mexico and many of the United States.
  • Clearwing Moths (Sesiidae household) – These day-flying moths have clear wings and slender our bodies, and may be simply mistaken for wasps or bees.

Butterflies That Are Energetic Throughout The Night time

  • Northern Pearly Eye (Enodia anthedon) – Present in North America, this butterfly is lively throughout nightfall and daybreak and generally at evening.
  • Frequent Glider (Neptis sappho) – Energetic throughout twilight and early evening, they’re usually present in Europe and Asia.
  • Chocolate Demon (Ancistroides nigrita) – This nocturnal butterfly is native to Southeast Asia and may be present in forested areas.
  • Malayan Night time Fliers (Elymnias caudata) – Present in Southeast Asia, these butterflies are lively throughout nightfall and evening and are identified for his or her placing wing patterns.

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